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Mary Curtis Talks About Ireland's Digital Television Switchover (Interview Q&A)
23 May 2011 :
Mary Curtis
With Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte officially launching Ireland’s SAORVIEW on Thursday, May 26th, IFTN spoke with Mary Curtis, RTÉ’s Director of Digital Switchover to find out about Ireland’s current status with regards to the upcoming 2012 Analogue Terrestrial Television switch off. Appointed to the new senior executive position in July 2010, Mary Curtis’ role gives her full responsibility for an effective transition to digital television using the new Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) system by 2012.

Ms Curtis will be in charge of bringing about an effective public uptake of the new television transmission and reception technology in time for the 2012 Analogue switch-off. Under the 2009 Broadcasting Act RTÉ must establish and launch one national DTT multiplex (a section of spectrum) to provide its own and other broadcasters’ services to the public at a level of distribution aimed at replicating the level now in place for Irish licensed free-to-air channels. This action, entitled SAORVIEW, is required as part of Irish delivery on the EU policy objective of achieving ASO (Analogue Switch-Off) by the end of 2012.

On February 24th of this year, then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Mr. Pat Carey T.D. announced additions in the line-up of channels to be included in the national ‘free to air’ SAORVIEW DTT platform. The new RTÉ channels added by the Minister include RTÉjr, RTÉ Two HD Select and RTÉ News Now. As it currently stands, SAORVIEW will include nine channels, namely RTÉ One, RTÉ Two HD, TV3, TG4, RTÉ News Now, 3e, RTÉjr, RTÉ One + 1 and RTÉ Digital Aertel. Said additions were met with displeasure by independent Irish broadcaster, TV3.

The DTT investment thus far has been carried out at a cost of €50 million by RTÉ from its own resources. This will reach €70 million in 2011, according to RTÉ. A new programme of public information will be launched by Communications Minister, Pat Rabbitte on Thursday, May 26th following the publishing of a government Report on TV viewing methods in Ireland which found that 66% of households were unaware of the upcoming analogue switchover.

Mary Curtis joined Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE) in 1990 as a researcher moving on to the role of Producer/Director and further creating and developing the programme 'Off the Rails'. She had been in the position of Deputy Director of Programmes when she was offered the role of Director of Digital Switchover. Here she discusses her role, the 2012 deadline and response to RTÉ’s public information campaign to date.

IFTN: Mary, first of all, is the Irish DTT analogue switchover running to schedule? Are we up to speed with our European counterparts?

Mary Curtis:We are running to schedule in terms of informing the public about digital switchover, there are 18 months left before Analogue switchover.

IFTN: What is left to be done before the switchover is complete?

Mary Curtis:The switchover is a process that will happen over the next 18 months, people have plenty of time to make the switch. The key issue is that people understand what changes they will need to make to continue to receive free-to-air television. There’s a lot still to be done but we are on target. We have been working very closely with the trade and retail over the past months to ensure that there is sufficient SAORVIEW approved stock in the market place and we have had an initial communication with the public which has informed them that SAORVIEW is coming. The next phase of the public information campaign is designed to inform the public what they need to do to receive the service.

IFTN: The SAORVIEW additions in February of RTÉjr, RTÉ Two HD Select and RTÉ News Now saw a strong reaction from TV3. A statement from TV3 read that “These newly approved channels will extend RTÉ’s dominance in media when it is already the most dominant State broadcaster in Europe. RTÉ will further increase its share of the advertising market alongside its total dominance of the licence fee.” Do you have a personal reaction to this statement?

Mary Curtis:From a SAORVIEW perspective, the more services on the platform the better it will be for viewers.

IFTN: Will any more RTÉ or non-RTÉ channels be included in the SAORVIEW line-up before its 2012 launch?

Mary Curtis:The BAI recently asked for Expressions of Interest for the platform and we are waiting to hear the outcome from that.

If RTÉ was to apply for additional services on the platform it would have to undergo a Public Value test and Sectoral Impact Assessment as outlined in Section 130 of the Broadcasting Act as was the case for the RTÉ Jr, RTÉ Two HD and RTÉ News Now.

IFTN: A statement from Kevin Dawson noted that RTÉ will have spent €70 million on the DTT analogue switchover in 2011. Can you give me a basic break-down of where this money has been spent?

Mary Curtis:By ASO, RTÉ will have invested a total of over €70 million building the necessary transmission infrastructure to enable Ireland make the successful transition from free-to-air analogue to free-to-air digital television. In addition RTÉ have also been charged in legislation with developing and managing the public information campaign to launch the new service – these costs are confidential.

IFTN: What has the general feedback from the Irish public been to the public SAORVIEW information campaign launched mid March? Had there been a lot of confusion as to the logistics of the switchover, in your opinion?

Mary Curtis:We have had very positive press and public feedback to the campaign. It is easy to make the switch and we have made that very clear in all our communications. For the majority of people who will need to make the change, it is simply a case of adding a set-top to their existing TV. The traffic to both our helpline and website has been significant which is encouraging given we are still at the beginning of the public information campaign that will run for 18 months.

IFTN: Following the analogue switchover in 2012 will you continue a role within RTÉ that will concentrate on SAORVIEW?

Mary Curtis:This is a hugely exciting and complex job and I am delighted to be leading a small and experienced team. The successful transition to digital television in Ireland is very important for RTÉ and for the future of free-to-air television broadcasting, so I haven’t looked beyond the next 18 months.

For more information about SAORVIEW visit www.saorview.ie



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